As good as he was writing completely miserable, sad-sack songs in the group Arab Strap, Malcolm Middleton has shown that he has quite an ear for writing a catchy pop song as well. His Into The Woods release contained plenty of sardonic gems, and A Brighter Beat finds him picking up right where that album left off, with a spoonful of sugar (largely lively and/or playful songs) helping the medicine (lyrics that still manage to plumb many of the same darker depths that his former band did) go down. So yeah, it's poppy and you can sing along with it, but you still get songs like "Death Love Depression Love Death" and "We're All Going To Die."
Speaking of the latter track, it might very well be one of the best songs that he's written to date. Clavinet, romping guitars, organs, male/female vocals and a stomping beat all add up to a completely infectious song (with the title as the chorus) that you can't help but sing along with like a tipsy bar patron slinging a half-empty beer above your head in agreement. "Fire Up The Night" finds blistering guitars bumping up against buzzing analogue synths as Middleton again trading vocal duties with Jenny Reeve (Reindeer Section), and it provides a nice dynamic along with the concise instrumentation.
The first one-third of the album (including the aforementioned songs) rocks forth with such a furious pace that it sounds like some sort of power pop explosion, but like his past releases it doesn't stay stuck in one place for long. Along with the awesome title, "Fuck It, I Love You" takes things down a notch with acoustic guitars, chimes, and some soft string backing while "Somebody Loves You" whittles the instrumentation down to just acoustic guitars and vocals. Even with the double-tracked vocals, it's a step down from the more fleshed-out songs.
Even though things don't pick up nearly to the level that they're at during the first part of the release, there are a couple nice slow-burners with significant blowouts that arrive during the end of the release that help give it a much-needed injection. "Up Late At Night Again" builds with some of the most gorgeous melodies on the entire album, with dense production from a large ensemble while "Superhero Songwriters" takes an overly-theatrical approach and pulls it off with horns, strings, synths, guitars, big drums, and snarky vocals all rolled up into a seven minute package that puts a nice capper on things. Similar to his past release in that it has some glorious highs along with a couple tracks that don't quite hold up as well, A Brighter Beat is an electic and wry pop release.